Wine of the Week – a delicious and great value Chenin Blanc

As some of my regular readers might know, I am not especially fond of Chenin Blanc. Indeed much of the time I choose not to drink it. However recently I re-tried a Chenin Blanc from one of my favourite South African producers – Kleine Zalze.

Kleine Zalze is an old established, family owned winery in Stellenbosch, just a couple of kilometres southwest of the town in fact. This is an incredibly beautiful wine region and the traditional hub of the South African wine industry. The first Europeans to settle the Cape were the Dutch – the British took the colony over during the Napoleonic Wars – and a lot of Protestant French Huguenots washed up in South Africa where they helped develop the wine industry that had been started by Simon van der Stel. Deer Steel was the first Dutch governor and Stellenbosch,  as well as nearby Simonstown, are named after him.

Kleine Salze was founded in 1695, so dates from these early days of South African wine. However it really received a new impetus to produce high quality wines when businessman Kobus Basson and his family bought the estate in 1996.

I have known the wines ever since then and have visited a couple of times and they are a very impressive outfit that turns out some brilliant wines from a wide range of grape varieties and blends. In my opinion their top range Family Reserve Pinotage is one of the very best examples of the grape, but I think that everything they make is really good – have a look at this wine.

Wine map South Africa’s Western Cape – click for a larger view.

Anyway recently I had a bottle of their Zalze Old Vine Chenin Blanc and it was so delicious that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Kleine Zalze in winter.

2016 Zalze Bush Vine Chenin Blanc
Kleine Salze
WO Coastal Region
South Africa

The Zalze range from Kleine Zalze are akin to entry level wines, but they are very high quality and this wine really proves that point. It is made from old bush vines that are dry farmed, so not irrigated. Old vines produce smaller crops of more concentrated fruit, which is why old vine wines are usually considered to be that bit finer. Most of the fruit comes from the Kleine Zalze estate in Stellenbosch, but some is sourced from other places like Swartland, which is why the wine is described as coming from Wine of Origin / WO Coastal Region and not Stellenbosch.

The fruit was hand harvested in the early hours to keep the fresh acidity. The grapes got a bit of skin contact to add texture and complexity and after the fermentation the wine was aged on the lees for four months, which also added complexity.

Kleine Salze in winter.

The wine is fresh and lively, but with a lovely soft, round and ever so slightly creamy quality. The natural high acid of the grape shows through, while the Mediterranean climate of the Cape adds the richness and softness that makes it so succulent and moreish – be warned the bottles empty very fast.

Bright, crisp lemon and lime citrus give a lovely refreshing quality. That freshness wraps around rich tropical guava and pineapple fruit and there is a touch of stony minerality that gives the wine focus and poise.

This is not complex wine, but it is very, very drinkable, delivers great value for money and is really versatile too. It goes well with almost anything, from the simplest fish and chips to salads, Mediterranean style food and spicy oriental dishes. I think it’s really delicious and will make a perfect house wine for the summer – 88/100 points.

I would also mention that Stellenbosch is a wonderful place to visit. In fact from a wine point of view South Africa’s Western Cape is one of the best places to see, as everything is so compact and the wineries are really well set up for tourism. As well as being a great winery to visit to taste the wines, Kleine Zalze is home to the wonderful Terroir restaurant.

Available in the UK for around £8 per bottle from:
Waitrose Cellar, Morrisons, Asda Wine Shop, Tesco, Booths.

 

 

Wine of the Week 2 – Domaine Lupier El Terroir

domaines-lupier-el-terroir

2009 Domaine Lupier El Terroir Garnacha
Bodegas Domaine Lupier, San Martín de Unx
Navarra, Spain
At first glance this wine might appear to be French – Domine Lupier might imply that – but actually it’s Spanish, from the under appreciated region of Navarra. What’s more, although it doesn’t say so on the label it is from the cool and mountainous Baja Montaña sub-zone.

The highpoint of Domaine Lupier, vines at 700 metres.

The highpoint of Domaine Lupier, vines at 700 metres.

This producer only makes two wines, but they are both great. Both are red and both are Garnachas, but Garnachas with a difference. These are mountain Garnacha / Grenache, cool climate, Atlantic influenced Garnacha / Grenache and the difference shows. I have written about their top wine before, their Domaine Lupier La Dama – read about it towards the end of this long piece about Navarra – and it is a magnificent wine. Their ‘second wine’ El Terroir is also superb though and is more affordable too.

Navarra with watermark QS

Map of Navarra – click for a larger view. High-res non-watermarked versions of my maps are available by agreement.

Since I first wrote about their wines I have met the owners – Enrique Basarte and Elisa Úcar – and they are as delightful as their wines. You can see their passion for their vineyards and their wines when they speak and that passion clearly ends up in the bottle. It is an amazing story too,  Enrique and Elisa wanted to create a winery project of their own. Both have a deep appreciation of Garnacha and dreamed of finding a plot of old vine Garancha that they could nurture back to productive life. Spain has more old vine Garnacha / Grenache than anywhere else, but they are sadly declining. Eventually the search brought them to San Martín de Unx where the altitude and conditions really excited them and they managed to buy 27 tiny parcels of all but abandoned vines, some of which were planted in 1903 – the average age of the domaine is 76 years old. These were free standing bush vines growing at different altitudes between 400 and 750 metres above sea level, on different soils and with different orientations.

Elisa and Enrique in their vineyards.

Elisa and Enrique in their vineyards.

Enrique and Elisa really wanted to ensure the vines were returned to perfect health and a balance with nature, so decided to farm using the  biodynamic approach. This is sustainable and ensures that the vines get the attention and care that they need and personally I think that is the secret with biodynamics. I really do not know whether farming by the biodynamic calendar, or using various biodynamic preparations really works, but am willing to bet that the fact that it is so labour intensive that Enrique, for he is the viticulturist,  is working in their vineyards everyday, inspecting and nurturing every vine, makes a massive difference to the finished wine. I have certainly never tasted Grenache like these and 2009 is only their second vintage released.

El Terroir comes from the lower slopes, between 400 and 600 metres above sea level, everything is hand picked and the wine was aged for 14 months in mixture of 500 litre, 300 litre and more normal 225 litre French oak barrels.

The wine
The colour is deep purple, but bright and vivid, not dense and not totally opaque.
The nose is fragrantly rich with sugar plums, fresh plums, sweet spice, earth and chocolate, while the palate is a joyful mix of rich plums and cherries, cherry stones, clove, anis and spicy oak. The fruit is succulent and juicy, but not even slightly jammy, in fact it is like succulent fresh fruit, red and black cherries with some raspberries thrown in that mingles perfectly with the earthy mineral characters. Also there is a lovely freshness and balance about the whole thing that makes it feel bright and elegant.
I have a sneaking suspicion I drank this a few years too early, as for a Garnacha it is very tight and firm in the tannin department, but hey it’s already delicious. If you want it softer give it 2 to 3 years more.

We are always told that old vines produce more intense flavours. Well this kind of proves the point, but it also proves another point, which is that old vines also have better inbuilt balance as they ripen with less sugar than younger vines – don’t ask me how, I’m not a scientist, but it is the balance that makes this wine so exciting and so delicious. A triumph – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £15 per bottle – stockist information is here or from Fields, Morris & Verdin, their UK distributor.